Wednesday, October 17th, 2012

How Exactly Is Uber "Disrupting" an Industry?

"For the first time in 30 years, New Yorkers could get a cab without going to the street and putting your arm out," startup Uber wrote yesterday, in the course of admitting they are shutting down their NYC pilot program. (Also, this is only true if you mean yellow cabs; in most of the City, people been calling for car services their whole lives.) Don't worry, you can use Uber in "more innovation-friendly cities," they snidely sign off. (Cue Mike Bloomberg breaking a lamp and vowing revenge.) Yes, the INNOVATORS—with $50 million in venture capital—have met the "obsolete cash cow" and the long arm of "regulation." What will become of "the cause"? Hey wait, what "cause" is this? I'm not a huge fan of the Taxi and Limousine Commission, but this is not a particularly good time in the history of the world to be against regulation. (Airlines; banking; prisons; hospitals; oh, "the environment.) If you want to "disrupt" the taxi industry in New York, you could maybe take up as a "cause" that livery drivers went on strike the other week because they're being treated like garbage by NYC 2-Way, the company that rents them out to the likes of Goldman Sachs. Will "being able to get a cab from your iPhone" improve taxi drivers' lives? "MAYBE," agrees the taxi drivers union. Would actually disrupting the actual industry actually improve their lives? For sure. For $50 million, you could open a lot of cab companies in a lot of cities and treat drivers well. But this isn't about actual industry disruption: it's about disrupting the customer experience, and then about Uber making money. A fine American principle! But let's not be confused that they're disrupting on behalf of anything other than a business model.

16 Comments / Post A Comment

brianvan (#149)

Maybe they can bitch about it at the homecoming dance

Hamilton (#122)

The revolution will be started-up.

Chris_H (#11,455)

Most professions regulated by licenses exist to increase workers salaries by increasing consumer prices — so the framing is more disrupting those who use government to protect their artificially-high salaries. I'm just not sure Uber actually disrupts this situation. San Fran's Sidecar might actually bypass the government/rent-seekers, though.

We need to time-travel the 1910-era progressives to present day to fix this. They were all about "influence," we're still kinda stuck in a 1980s "big government" debate. Or, what Lessig said:

jfruh (#713)

@Chris_H Most professions regulated by licenses exist to increase workers salaries by increasing consumer prices — so the framing is more disrupting those who use government to protect their artificially-high salaries.

I look forward to the day when all our salaries drop from their artificially high level to their natural floor (i.e., scraps of bread thrown at us by the henchmen of the local warlord as we toil in his mines.)

Chris_H (#11,455)

@jfruh Unions! They're like having licensed-professions, only with societal benefits and without screwing consumers as much.

Cabbies/interior designers/hair braiders/etc using government licenses to jack up prices for consumers is bad news and corrupts gov folk.

Unions though! They're good stuff.

Matt (#26)

Yeah that's right, we are really friendly to the innovative down here. Some of us have even discovered khakis without pleats.

Multiphasic (#411)

@Matt Quit disrupting my pants.

Matt (#26)

Is that a disruption in your pants or are you hailing a cab on you iPhone?

NinetyNine (#98)

Matt requests four Uber pickups the first time he uses his iPhone.

"Hey, it was free."

Matt (#26)

It's like crossing the street before the light comes on even though you pushed the button … for heshers.

barnhouse (#1,326)

Absolutely hilarious, do their press releases play the Rocky theme when you open them?? No no it would definitely be Chariots of Fire.

hershmire (#233,671)

Uber would have been just a more efficient way for taxi drivers to refuse to take me to Brooklyn.

julebsorry (#5,783)

Seems like NYC's "obsolete cash cow" is only obsolete in the sense that it won't let Uber act on their apparently god-given right to be a middleman between customers and drivers (and hoover up the portion of the cash cow they believe they're entitled to).

The relationship between cab drivers, the city, and the TLC specifically has always been complex. the CEO calling himself a "disruptor" is idiotic – while I'm sure in his own mind, he sees himself as the girl from the infamous Apple "1984" commercial, he comes off as a privileged white dude that's just angry that rules he doesn't care to understand apparently still apply to him.

pissy elliott (#397)

@julebsorry YEP!

Ralph Haygood (#13,154)

But, but, but…it's from San Francisco! It stars whiz kids Garrett Camp and Travis Kalanick! It involves iPhones! Michael Arrington loves it! IT MUST BE DISRUPTIVE!!!!

Thank you, Choire. After years of breathless fawning over Uber in the "tech press," this post is a welcome dose of reality.

ThisBeTheVerse (#238,773)

I read a headline in TechCrunch recently that said something like "Warby Parker gets 40 million dollars to disrupt the eyeglass industry" and I LOL'd. But it's not actually funny.

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